NYT: President Obama skipped dessert at a long summit meeting dinner in Cambodia on Monday to rush back to his hotel suite. It was after 11:30 p.m., and his mind was on rockets in Gaza rather than Asian diplomacy. He picked up the telephone to call the Egyptian leader who is the new wild card in his Middle East calculations.
Over the course of the next 25 minutes, he and President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt hashed through ways to end the latest eruption of violence, a conversation that would lead Mr. Obama to send Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the region. As he and Mr. Morsi talked, Mr. Obama felt they were making a connection. Three hours later, at 2:30 in the morning, they talked again.
…. The White House phone log tells part of the tale. Mr. Obama talked with Mr. Morsi three times within 24 hours and six times over the course of several days, an unusual amount of one-on-one time for a president. Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.
President Obama talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during a phone call from his hotel suite in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 19 (Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, aboard Air Force One during the flight from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Washington, D.C., Nov. 20. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon listens at right. (Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in the Oval Office, Nov. 21. Chief of Staff Jack Lew, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough listen in the foreground. (Pete Souza)
President Obama returns from a trip to Thailand, Burma and Cambodia, Nov. 21
2:0: The President pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey
4:20: The First Family participates in a service event
NYT: In the fractious relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the shoe may have just shifted to the other foot.
After more than a year of Mr. Obama needing – and not getting – much support from his Israeli counterpart in his efforts to woo American Jewish voters at home ahead of his re-election, it is now Mr. Netanyahu, Israel experts say, who needs Mr. Obama to help shore up his support at home.
The Israeli leader is facing an election in January, and if there is one thing that Israeli voters do not like, scholars say, it is any kind of daylight between their prime minister and the American president in times of strife.
After a year in which Mr. Netanyahu made no secret of his support for Mitt Romney, now might seem a perfect time for Mr. Obama to return the favor. And yet, as Israel and Hamas — and their proxies, the United States and Egypt — struggle to agree on a cease-fire in the fighting in Gaza, he has not done so.
…. All of this, Middle East experts say, means that Mr. Obama may have buttressed his own standing with the Israeli public, and is now in a far better position to start pressing Mr. Netanyahu on issues from the Israeli siege of Gaza to Iran to the dormant Middle East peace process, where he has had little leverage.
Charles Pierce: …. I would like to have an opinion on this continual bloodletting that didn’t sound banal but, goddammit, I’m out of them. I am thoroughly sick of both sides here. Opportunistic cutthroats poke a stick at the region’s most powerful military, knowing full well that said military will overreact and that the overreaction will fall most heavily on the civilian population on whose behalf the cutthroats are allegedly acting. Said military reacts right on cue, with all the modern military hardware against which the cutthroats know that they and the people they allegedly represent have no possible defense. Innocent people die. Then more innocent people die…..
…. there is no side worth taking in this. Not any more. It’s just tangled slaughter and bloody ambivalence and blind, unending fury. There is nothing but madness at its center, implacable as gravity, and drawing everything toward it.
NYT: The Obama administration took a big step on Tuesday to carry out the new health care law by defining “essential health benefits” that must be offered to most Americans and by allowing employers to offer much bigger financial rewards to employees who quit smoking or adopt other healthy behaviors.
…. Insurance companies are rushing to devise health benefit plans that comply with the federal standards. Starting in October, people can enroll in the new plans, for coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2014.
The rules translate the broad promises of the 2010 law into detailed standards that can be enforced by state and federal officials. Under the rules, insurers cannot deny coverage or charge higher premiums to people because they are sick or have been ill. They also cannot charge women more than men, as many now do.
President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March, 5, in the Oval Office
David Firestone (NYT): Iran represents one of the world’s most grave foreign policy challenges, but don’t look for much gravity in the speeches to American Israel Public Affairs Committee this week by the top three Republican presidential candidates. There will be plenty of empty fist-shaking and ridicule of President Obama at the pro-Israel lobbying group, but not a single new thought for preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
…. Romney, Santorum and Gingrich have consistently been at their most dangerous when discussing the Middle East, combining a simplistic bellicosity toward the Islamic world with a reflexive agreement with the Israeli right….
….. On Sunday, in his speech to Aipac, Mr. Obama made clear that he will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran, and is prepared to use military force to prevent it if necessary. But he said he prefers the route of diplomacy, and regrets the “loose talk of war”…
….Mr. Santorum bizarrely suggested recently that the Obama administration is helping Iran develop a weapon by leaking Israel’s plans for an attack … The administration would rather let Iran go nuclear than give up its oil, he charged.
That’s too ridiculous to even bother refuting, but it’s hardly out of line with a Republican field that has responded to the globe’s most serious issues with precarious posturing.
ThinkProgress: Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, during a Knesset debate ahead of the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, characterized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition as engaging in “diplomatic stupidity” and warned that government’s position is putting “the United States into a corner.” She placed blame for the current predicament at Netanyahu’s feet, observing:
“The United States is making sure it won’t be singled out but how are we helping ourselves? We now need to initiate the political process. (Prime Minster Benjamin) Netanyahu tried to prevent this and now the Palestinians are at the United Nations.”
Livni emphasized the importance of Israel’s friendship with the U.S., especially in light of the growing regional isolation faced by the Jewish state. She warned:
“Next to all these enemies Israel has friends, and at the top of that list is United States, who is willing to guarantee Israel’s security. They don’t understand Israel’s policy, they don’t understand why the stubbornness over settlements, they don’t believe the prime minister of Israel when he says ‘two states’ but doesn’t do anything about it. And this saddens me because I am a citizen of the state.”
While blasting Netanyahu’s policies and his intransigence in the peace process, she urged him to reverse course and save an increasingly untenable Israeli position…..
John Heilemann (NY Mag): Barack Obama is the best thing Israel has going for it right now. Why is that so difficult for Netanyahu and his American Jewish allies to understand?
The last time Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu shared each other’s company, you could say that the encounter did not go well – if by “not well” you mean abysmally. This was on May 20, the day after Obama gave his big speech on the Arab Spring …. Obama was furious with Netanyahu, who in choosing to ignore the crucial qualifier about land swaps had twisted Obama’s words beyond recognition – the kind of mendacious misinterpretation that makes the presidential mental.
The senior most members of Obama’s team felt much the same. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Bill Daley, the former Mideast-peace envoy George Mitchell: All were apoplectic with the prime minister, whose behavior over the past two years had already tried their patience…..
…. The premise of Obama’s approach to Israel all along has been straightforward. Given the demographic realities it faces …. our ally confronts a fundamental and fateful choice: It can remain democratic and lose its Jewish character; it can retain its Jewish character but become an apartheid state; or it can remain both Jewish and democratic, satisfy Palestinian national aspirations, facilitate efforts to contain Iran, alleviate the international opprobrium directed at it, and reap the enormous security and economic benefits of ending the conflict by taking up the task of the creation of a viable Palestinian state – one based, yes, on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
The irony is that Obama – along with countless Israelis, members of the Jewish diaspora, and friends of Israel around the world – seems to grasp these realities and this choice more readily than Netanyahu does. “The first Jewish president?” Maybe not. But certainly a president every bit as pro-Israel as the country’s own prime minister – and, if you look from the proper angle, maybe even more so.
Greg Sargent (Washington Post): Huh. Netanyahu is now reportedly open to using the 1967 lines with swaps as the basis for negotiations, which is exactly what he pilloried Obama for (with the nodding approval of many craven Dems in Congress):
AP: In a dramatic policy shift, Israel’s prime minister has agreed to negotiate the borders of a Palestinian state based on the cease-fire line that marks off the West Bank, a TV station reported Monday.
Up to now, Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to spell out his plan for negotiating the border. A senior Israeli official would not confirm outright that the prime minister was now willing to adopt the cease-fire line as a starting point, but said Israel was willing to try new formulas to restart peace talks based on a proposal made by President Barack Obama.
In a speech about the Middle East in May, Obama proposed negotiations based on the pre-1967 line with agreed swaps of territory between Israel and a Palestinian state. Netanyahu reacted angrily, insisting that Israel would not withdraw from all of the West Bank, though that was not what Obama proposed.
Now Netanyahu is basically accepting that framework, according to Channel 2 TV, offering to trade Israeli territory on its side of the line for West Bank land where its main settlements are located…..